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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

August 29, 2007 |  9:16 pm

Paul_coates_2 Aug. 29, 1957

Lynn Stuart didn't fall into a terror machine.

She jumped in, voluntarily.

When she did so, she was living in an outwardly quiet and clean Santa Ana community. She was married to a truck driver. She was raising two infant sons.

The neighbors liked her. The police didn't even known she existed. And those who operated in the dark corners of her town just plain ignored her.

But, almost overnight, all of that changed.

She took a job as a waitress in a small cafe not far from her home. She met and mixed with a bad crowd.

She learned the "language" they spoke. And shortly afterward she began dealing in the products.

She started making "buys"--of pills and marijuana and heroin.

What her new associates thought of her is hard to say.

But the feelings of her neighbors and friends, and of the police, were not hidden.

The police began staking out on her home, shaking her down when she left work. A few times, they threw her in jail on suspicion.

1957_0829_powers The neighbors and friends were more subtle. They just stopped talking to her.

To this point, Lynn Stuart's story differs little from the stories of dozens of others who became involved with narcotics.

But there is a major difference.

Lynn Stuart became entangled in the horror-web of dope out of a feeling of civic duty.

She was neither an addict nor a pusher.

She was, instead, an undercover narcotics agent.

Her nonpaying job began in 1951. She appeared at the sheriff's narcotics investigation bureau and stated, innocently, that she had heard about the seriousness of the problem and wanted to do something about it.

She had two infant sons, she explained, who might someday be affected.

The sheriffs checked her background, warned her of the dangers and put her to work. Assignment No. 1 was to become a waitress in her neighborhood cafe--a suspected hangout.

At the time, she didn't know marijuana from dried cabbage, but her ignorance worked beautifully to her advantage.

Who would suspect you of being a narco agent if you couldn't even use the jargon?

Everything worked almost too well, in fact.

Because Lynn Stuart became so successful, so deeply involved, that she practically cut off any personal retreat.

She made all the parties. She took trips to Tijuana with "friends" who'd tie 50-pound sacks of marijuana under their cars, or hide a few ounces of "H" in a secret stash compartment under the dashboard.

She attended the big weekend parties in Balboa and Newport. (Both communities were loaded with narcotics, she told me).

And she continued making "buys" up to $300.

Lynn Stuart's husband was the only outsider who knew of her job. He wasn't enthusiastic about it, but he didn't try to convince her to quit. He trusted the sheriffs, who gave her every protection possible.

The Stuart's house was ransacked a few times after she had made some substantial "buys"--to disprove rather plainly the old bit about honor among thieves.

But while Lynn Stuart minimizes the dangers to herself and her family, it's obvious that they were always there.

Because during her six years of undercover work, she supplied information to catch and convict nearly 30 pushers.

That's not easy to do without arousing heavy suspicions.

I talked to Lynn Stuart (a pseudonym) yesterday. She's through now--just a plain housewife, bringing up two sons.

Her experiences were pretty terrifying, she admits. But she wouldn't trade them.

"When I was in a tight situation," she told me, "I was afraid till I got out of it. Then it was over.

"But what used to send me home crying was watching the kids--the teenagers--get hooked.

"They could have been my kids in a few more years.

"Helping put some vicious people out of circulation--I guess that's what made it so worthwhile."